Biographical / Historical
Like many other women's clubs in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Woman's Club of Germantown organized in 1917 to participate in the social, civic, educational and philanthropic life of Germantown, Pennsylvania, and the surrounding area. According to “The First Ten Years: A History of the Woman’s Club of Germantown,” Elizabeth Wilson White initiated the organization of the club via a luncheon to which she invited Mrs. William E. Buehler, Mrs. Thomas H. Carmichael, Mrs. Francis R. Strawbridge, Mrs. Butler Reeves, Mrs. Joseph McFarland, Mrs. Walter G. Sibley, Mrs. Bayard Hodge, Mrs. Walter Penn Shipley, and Mrs. H. C. Bowden. Later these same women held a large luncheon meeting at the Young Women’s Christian Association where the plans were developed more fully. It was here that, “Mrs. H.S. Prentice Nichols presided, lending her force and clever skill in molding the enthusiasm of the hour into the firm foundation of permanent organization.” (The First Ten Years, p. 10)
This commitment to permanent organization resulted in a constitution, the purchase of the Johnson House for a clubhouse, a rapidly increasing number of members, and joining the State Federation of Pennsylvania Women. The Club also organized four standing committees: House, Program, Finance and Membership. The Johnson House was an eighteenth century historic house located in Germantown and famous for scars inflicted during the Battle of Germantown in 1777 and its later nineteenth century use as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Almost simultaneously with the creation of the Woman’s Club of Germantown, came the First World War and the Clubwomen donated their time and resources towards the war effort. Indeed, “intensive war work was carried on by club members. . . the clubhouse served as the Germantown headquarters of the National League for Woman’s Service, [and] during the summer and fall of 1918, soldiers and sailors from government hospitals in Philadelphia were entertained each Tuesday in the garden of the club,” (Woman’s Club of Germantown 50th Anniversary Luncheon program, 1917-1967).
The end of the war brought peace and a charter granted to the Woman’s Club of Germantown on April 29, 1919. The committees of the club grew, adding a Building Committee when the discussion of an Assembly Building was raised, as well as Patriotic Committee through which Americanization work was accomplished. A Junior Section of the Woman’s Club of Germantown was established on January 7, 1920 with ten junior clubwomen.
In 1922, the Club had raised enough money to begin building an Assembly building and various events were established and made annual such as the Antiques Show, Spring Fete and Flower Show. The Club also established the Germantown Community Center which later became known as the Germantown Settlement. The Club also participated in the Sesquicentennial Celebration, hosting tourists from near and far at the Johnson House, which had been labeled a point of "historic interest."
The Club’s involvement in community and philanthropy grew and in 1935, the Club’s social service committee “financed a ‘Tot Lot’ in a congested part of Philadelphia to provide recreation for underprivileged children… [which] brought recognition from the State Federation of Pennsylvania Women in the form of a Blue Ribbon Award for social service work,” (Silver Chimes). The Junior Clubwomen were also awarded for their service.
The Club’s committees appear to have been the backbone of the Club, growing from an original four committees in 1917 to twenty four in 1927 to twenty-five in 1974. The 1974 committees included: admissions, nominating, arts and crafts, book review and library, by-laws, cancer dressings, current events, decorating and gardening, desserts, finance, friendship, Heyl Memorial, historian, house and office, Marathon Bridge, program, Spring Luncheon, hostesses, telephone, trips, ways and means, welfare and yearbook.
In 1927, the author of “The First Ten Years” states, “The Woman’s Club of Germantown is ten years old—it has seen a World War, and met the conditions of reconstruction following in its wake, it has been stirred to the past through its city’s Sesquicentennial, and adjusted its standards to the modern march of manners and morals. The next ten years may hold less or more of stirring events and subtle change, but the foundations of sympathy, integrity and practical idealism have, we trust, been laid,” (p. 34). By 1947, Mrs. Horace H. Burrell felt confident stating “the goals of the founder that ‘an organization of Germantown women could come together in a friendly way, regardless of social distinctions, and create a force that would tell in the social, civic, education and philanthropic life of Germantown’ had been accomplished.”